OpinionIran in the World PressU.S. Turns Iran Screw On India

U.S. Turns Iran Screw On India

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The Asian Age: External affairs minister Natwar Singh has drawn the India-US civilian nuclear energy agreement into the direct line of fire from the US Congress with his one visit to Iran. The Asian Age

Seema Mustafa

New Delhi – External affairs minister Natwar Singh has drawn the India-US civilian nuclear energy agreement into the direct line of fire from the US Congress with his one visit to Iran.

US administration officials R. Nicholas Burns and Robert G. Joseph, who appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in a bid to sell the US-India agreement on civilian nuclear energy to the US Congress, were countered by influential Congressmen wondering about New Delhi’s support for Iran’s nuclear programme.

India, meanwhile, has been served a time notice by the United States which expects it to begin delivering on its side of the civilian nuclear pact agreed to by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush. New Delhi has also been told in no uncertain words that, one, the first key commitment should be the separation of military and civilian nuclear installations; and two, this should be done in a manner that meets with US approval. The two senior officials made it clear that India was now expected to move to keep its end of the bargain.

The normally articulate Mr Natwar Singh, who has maintained a grim silence on the nuclear agreement, not even rising to defend it in Parliament, said at a meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran had the right to access peaceful nuclear technology.

He has been quoted on the Iranian foreign office site as saying that India supports the resolution of the Iran nuclear issue within the IAEA framework and opposes sending the file to the UN Security Council. He is credited with also pointing out that “India’s relations with Iran is not predicated on positions and views attributed to some governments” in what is seen here as a clear reference to the US, Interestingly, there is not a word on the visit by the foreign minister on the MEA website, almost as if it never took place.

Senior Democrat Tom Lantos told the hearing that India “will pay a very hefty price for their total disregard of US concerns vis a vis Iran, the single most important international threat we face”. Undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns, who personally negotiated the civilian nuclear energy pact with India, said his government would seek a clarification from New Delhi on this. Mr Lantos further said, “New Delhi must understand how important their cooperation and support is to US initiatives to counter the nuclear threat from Iran.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the other had, has tried to draw a distance between New Delhi and Iran although he has been treading carefully given domestic sensitivities.

He first hinted at the economic unviability of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline that is being opposed by the US at all levels. He modified his comments when faced with a hostile reaction at home, particularly from the Left parties. He then spoke in favour of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline during his visit to Kabul recently, although the oil lobby here is as yet uncertain about the feasibility of this particular project, which is being supported by the Americans.

Undersecretary of state for arms control and international security Robert G. Joseph, at a hearing before the House Committee on International Relations, was very categorical in his presentation running counter to the tone and tenor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assurances to Parliament. “We have indicated that the separation of civil and military facilities must be credible and defensible from a non-proliferation standpoint to us and to our international friends and partners,” he said.

Mr Joseph said India had not indicated how it intends to proceed on this score, “but we will engage with India over the weeks and months ahead to develop a mutually acceptable approach to this key commitment”. He went on to then make it very clear that the US expected this “civil/military split” to be “comprehensive enough to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime and to provide strong assurances to supplier states and the IAEA that materials and equipment provided as part of civil cooperation will not be diverted to the military sphere”. He stressed on the direct correlation between the number of activities that India places under IAEA safeguards and the US’ ability to build support for India in Congress and in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Prime Minister Singh had spoken of reciprocity but had not detailed what he actually meant by that. It was clear from Mr Joseph’s detailed presentation to the committee that the US had taken the initiative in approaching the US Congress, the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and that it was now up to the Manmohan Singh government to separate the civil and military nuclear facilities. This, incidentally, is the most controversial aspect of the Singh-Bush deal and has already invited stiff opposition from allies as well as the Opposition.

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